Number of the Month

October  2005

Of truth and fiction

Truth is the daughter of time.
Old proverb

Apologies for absence and thanks for all the queries, but all is well at Numeric Towers.  It seemed to be a good idea to take a few days off from foraging among the detritus of media science abuse. Well, it was so pleasant that a few days stretched into two weeks. Apart from some allotment clearing and the planting out of some winter vegetables, this also gave time for indulgence in reading some good writing for a change. This included all of the tragically attenuated oeuvre of Josephine Tey. She wrote mystery stories that were considerably superior to those some of her more popular contemporaries, being believable and populated by well rounded characters.

One of her best books was Daughter of Time, in which her detective, Alan Grant, is laid up in hospital. He comes across a portrait of Richard III, which intrigues him and leads him to borrow a school history book from one of the nurses to find out more. As he reads the traditional tale of undiluted villainy, his detective mind begins to feel that it does not add up. With the aid of a young American, who acts as gofer, he assembles the evidence and in a tortuous investigation comes to the conclusion that Richard is the victim of an early and effective example of black propaganda, conducted by clerics in the pay of the murderous usurper. Long time number watchers might remember a reference to the modern relevance of this intrigue back in November 2001.

Which brings us to Sourcewatch. What an insidious development this is! It poses as an open-edited (Wiki) but is in fact no more open than was Pravda in the time of Stalin. It has a staff of in-house editors who instantly remove anything deemed to be politically incorrect. For a flavour of the political stance just compare the treatment of climate sceptics with the grovelling tribute to Greenpeace.

Of course, to understand the nature of the propaganda, you have to appreciate the workings of the mind of the Green Establishment. To blacken someone in that convoluted world it is merely necessary to establish a link to, say, the dreaded tobacco industry, nothing more. A lawyer can take money from a serial murdering rapist (as, indeed, can a cab driver or window cleaner) and emerge pure as the driven snow, but a scientist is deemed to be damned forever if he ever offered his services to one of the “inappropriate” industries, even if that was way back before it was labelled naughty. At best, the logic of all such ad hominem attacks is like saying “Pythagoras was a wife-beater, therefore his theorem must be wrong.”

The Tudor calumny against Richard endured for four centuries. What will future historians make of the efforts of the current establishment?

Round objects

Anyway, what stirred your bending author out of an enjoyable torpor was an article in the Sunday Times of such monumental ignorance and carelessness that comment was irresistible. The article is Eeek! Spielberg in 3-D without specs by <names removed>. In it they state (and not for the first time) that:

The key problem is that, so far, all 3-D formats have needed viewers to wear glasses with a red filter for one eye and a green filter for the other. Some find these cause headaches and disorientation.

Even if they are too young to have experienced the thrill of full colour stereoscopic cinema by the Polaroid method, you would have thought that a little research might have been considered appropriate for a whole-page article in a major newspaper.

Many of us oldies will never forget the impact when a dull flat picture of a rainy street suddenly turned into the real thing with the sound of the rain all round. It is spine-tingling just to think about it. Full colour 3D was demonstrated at the Festival of Britain in 1951. The article mentions a few of the failed films in 3D, but leaves out classics such as Dial M for murder and House of wax. It then goes on to mention new large screen systems that do not need glasses. This is fairly easy on a small scale and a narrow angle, as with the logo on your credit card or even a lap top LCD, by white-light holography, lenticular prisms or screens, but on the large scale there are considerable problems. Modern high-speed, high definition digital projection allows successive left and right images to be interlaced. These can be alternately selected by switched LCD lenses in glasses to render perfect stereoscopic images.

To appreciate the scale of the problem of doing without the glasses, imagine a couple in the back row with their heads close together. You have four eyes roughly equispaced, yet alternate ones have to receive different images. Now if Spielberg has solved that one he has really achieved something. This article, with its vague talk of angles gives no clue as to how it is to be done. As for the graphic – Well!

3D was a wonderful experience that was destroyed by the film makers. Instead of using it to enhance the story-telling, they filled their films with gimmicks, such as snakes and missiles striking out at the audience. Even the latest one was a version of Jaws with the shark leaping out of the screen. The rival technology was wide-screen, which was exploited to tell the big stories, and won.

16/10/05

Footnote: To assuage the curiosity of some readers, here is that graphic. Look and learn!

Ratchet and Paul

The media have kept up the ratchet reporting of weather and other phenomena throughout the silly season in support of Global Warming. They prefer to call it Phenology, which sounds posher, though nasty old cynics call it white swan spotting. One of the most assiduous ratcheteers is Paul Smith who writes the Weather Eye column in The Times. You can reckon on a global warming plug about once a week. Sometimes, of course, newspapers being what they are, you find a contradictory item on another page. Last autumn we had flying fish versus Russian waxwings. In the real world waxwings migrate for various reasons (over-population, shortage of their staple rowan berries etc.) but in the media world wild creatures are endowed with superior weather forecasting capabilities, so they heralded a white Christmas, which astonishingly failed to materialise.

Anyway, this autumn our Paul was touting spiders crossing into Scotland (October 5th). Unfortunately, the Nature Notes column immediately underneath reported early snow buntings on the East coast of England. On October 20th Paul was obliged to acknowledge the North Atlantic Oscillation, with the headline Signs of Arctic winter to come. This was rather thrust upon him, as the previous day Angela Jameson, the Industrial Correspondent, had stolen Nigel Hawkes’ clothes with the headline Thousands could die in “big freeze”. This was in response to the Met Office issuing a press release. Well, they were wrong about the heat wave; perhaps they will be right this time. At least it will stop the British complaining about having mild weather when people are dying of the cold all over the northern hemisphere.

Fortunately for the likes of Paul, the average newspaper reader skims through the articles without making any logical connections. Once you admit that the NAO exists and is turning colder, then you have to acknowledge that it has just been in the other direction (that’s what oscillations do) so there is quite another attribution for all those observations that were put down to global warming.

Most of us get pleasure out of watching birds, even if we are not fanatical about it. In our garden in Wiltshire we had the rare pleasure of several visits this year from a lesser spotted woodpecker . What we have not seen is the greater spotted scare pamphlet. Whatever happened to that production entitled Heatwave that we were all going to get? Are the millions stacked up in some Government warehouse, or was it just going to be printed when the opportunity arose?

In the real part of the world that is the Blackmore Vale, the year was dominated by the cold May. In the end we had a fine harvest on our allotments, though it came late and all it once. It was a wonderful year for onions – the Ailsa Craigs all came in at over a pound. There were very few coloured butterflies, except for a little flourish at the end. There were plenty of white cabbage eaters though.

So much for all the BBC’s scaremongering with its own searing Heatwave and its exploitation of the extreme value fallacy with Springwatch. It was a clever piece of propaganda to get the ordinary punters involved. In our old garden in Hampshire there was one snowdrop that was always two or three weeks ahead of the others. It had no climate significance. That is the way evolution works; there are always a few pioneers pushing the frontiers. Species diffuse in all directions and they are chopped off if conditions are hostile and they have failed to adapt.

Huns, Goths, Vandals and Greenpeace

"What an artist the world is losing in me!"
Nero

News of the desecration of Romney Marsh will sadden many people who cherish memories of that wonderful nature reserve, so close to London that those of us from  relatively poor parts of the City were able to experience its magic. It will, of course, hearten those who believe in the destruction of the environment in the name of the environment. This is reflected in the Daily Telegraph letters, where the destructive and mendacious malice of the Greenpeace spokesman stands out as a cruel monument of man's inhumanity to nature.

There have been many destructive movements in human history, some of them based on the empty prophecies of a religion or the vanity of a long forgotten leader. The voluntary devastation of what remains of  the visual glory that once was an England that inspired some of the greatest poetry and painting in the world might stand out for future historians as one of the most perverse of all. But then, if humanity sinks further into pseudoscientific superstition, perhaps the perpetrators will be looked on as saints. On the other hand, if humanity carries on the way it is going, these useless structures will stand as guano-covered monuments to a race that destroyed itself for reasons of religion, like the former inhabitants of Easter Island.

22/10/05

Sacrifice

It is, of course, no coincidence that it is the most precious areas of Britain that are being marked out as the sites for desecration by wind turbine. Sacrifice is one of the most consistent principles throughout all history of religion. Ostensibly the purpose of sacrifice is to propitiate the gods, but in reality it exists to affirm the power of the priesthood. Every society has its witch doctors, who exploit the naivety of their fellows to hold them in thrall. The two essential features of sacrifice are that it is pointless but painful. In the extreme it involves the murder of innocents. The son of Abraham might have had a last-minute reprieve, but in societies ranging from the Aztecs to the Minoans human sacrifice was conducted on a large scale.

Likewise, the symbols of religion come to dominate the skyline. The modern monotheistic religions compete with each other to build bigger domes. So, it is not just for engineering reasons that the Dorset wind turbines have to be taller than Salisbury cathedral. There is also competition by sound; church bells, the amplified muezzin and now the turbines noisily impose themselves upon the ears of the faithful.

Power is asserted by omnipresence and size. Portraits of Big Brother, statues of Sadaam or Kim, the big yellow M, all stand as constant reminders of where true power lies.

Ever since Sir Crispin Tickel became the Wormtongue who had the ear of Margaret Thatcher, the new eco-theologians have exercised power within the bureaucracy. Everywhere they gain entry they set about recruiting their own kind. Thus, one by one, the pillars of the establishment fall under their dominion – the BBC, the Royal Society, the political parties, the newspapers etc. They pour scorn on science and its methods, yet take its name in vain when it suits. When they commit their atrocities on a landscape that has inspired some of the finest poetry and art in human history, there is almost no one left with an outlet for protest. Even if the most dire predictions of the wildest prophets of global warming were correct, these mindless acts of desecration would have a negligible effect; but if they were not pointless they would not qualify as a sacrifice. And so they will march on, littering the land with their monstrous and useless symbols of power.

Look on their works, ye mighty, and despair.

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear!

How much further can Nature sink? It is now reduced to digging up the old pollution and sex ratio scam. Not only is this based on the ratio fallacy, but every now and then epidemiologists publish equal and opposite conclusions as to whether the result produces more boys or more girls. The great Devra Davis started it all off with more girls on April Fools Day, 1998, while the University of Michigan had its money on more boys (it’s all in The Epidemiologists). Now we are back to girls again with the University of Sao Paulo. Are these people immunised against embarrassment?

Well, there’s a surprise!

You won’t believe this, but now that the election is out of the way the British New Labour Government is not going to adhere to its manifesto commitment for a partial smoking ban. It is going the whole hog. Who would have believed that they are capable of such cynical manipulation?

At least they could have paid us the respect of having some intelligence, by not going through the pantomime of pretending to have a debate about it. There is a tragedy for human society in this development. Gross statistical fraud had been shown to work.

The anti-smoking campaign owes its remarkable strength to the alliance of three potent forces. First, there is the political correctness movement, which has nominated tobacco as its evil icon, the defeat of which will be the expression of its own power. Second are the puritans, who are always with us, and live in the fear that someone, somewhere might be enjoying something. Third, and most potently, there are the ex-smokers, who live in terror of their own cravings and, while pretending to hate the vile odour, will do anything to remove the temptation.

So much for motivation, but the distressing thing is the means by which these people have achieved their ends. The whole campaign depends on two studies, by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Centres for Disease Control. They both produced the “wrong ” answers, which led to a grotesque process of statistical falsification that has been a body blow to science.

The raw results of the CDC study actually showed that smokers live longer than non-smokers. As a result they had to dream up all sorts of scams, such as eighty and ninety year old smokers being designated as dying “prematurely” from their habit.

The raw results of the EPA study suggested that passive smoking was harmless, which led them to change the level of significance in mid-stream (an unforgivable crime) to a level that is the lowest that has ever been employed; after which they still arrived at a relative risk that is totally unacceptable in real science.

The reason that this is a human tragedy is that such methods will now become the model for those whose mission in life is to push others around, i.e. the political elite.

At least the Daily Telegraph editorial managed a bleat on behalf of British fair play. Much good may it do them.

24/10/05

Think of a number, multiply by 25…..

You have to keep reminding yourself of the fact that there is not one iota of scientific evidence that anybody, anywhere had ever died of passive smoking. The tsunami of propaganda associated with the British Government’s internal debate, on just how brutal the repression of tobacco should be, reached astonishing heights.  In a BBC radio interview the interrogator put it to a Labour opponent of authoritarianism that 500 people die every week from passive smoking. Instead of challenging this figure, his victim accepted it and tried to argue on grounds of human freedom. These imaginary body counts have been one of the few growth industries of our time.

They started off with a figure of one thousand. They gave no provenance for this, but it was probably taken from the results of the EPA statistical fraud, adjusted pro rata for population and then a bit added for luck. With no further input of experimental data the figure crept up and up, until it had reached 10,000 early this year. Now it is more than twenty five times bigger than the original.

Body count politics came into prominence with the Vietnam War, but then there were real bodies. Sadaam was counting on this factor working in his favour in the Mother of all Battles. In those cases there were actual body bags, but in the new epidemiology they are generally purely imaginary. Zealots compete with each other to quote higher and higher death rates, all on the basis of no evidence at all. When, in the past, have there been such claims of carnage without one single post-mortem to substantiate them?

And still the nonsensical pseudo-research pours out. The arrant foolishness of the BMA attempt to relate smoking to reproductive problems was a beacon in the path of growth of junk science, but there was worse to come. Now we are told that smoking reduces IQ. It does not take much imagination to guess how the results were fabricated, even if we are not told. If there is a positive thing we know about tobacco it is that it increases concentration and cerebration, as well as reducing stress. Sherlock Holmes referred to a conundrum as “a three pipe problem”. That was fiction, but the sentiment was well understood. Think of the geniuses of last two centuries  – Einstein, Russell, Rutherford, Sartre…. No, it would be easier to produce a much smaller list of the great philosophers, physicists and authors who were NOT pipe smokers. And most of the hopeless addicts  had the perversity to live long and healthy lives. Why are there no great physicists and philosophers in our universities now? Why has the modern world become such a stupid place?

26/10/05

Ban first, think afterwards

Let’s find out what everybody is doing and then stop them doing it.
A P Herbert

For aficionados of the theatre of the absurd there is nothing like the third term of an administration. Perhaps that is why Americans do without them. The UK Government has been in power long enough for its own chickens to come home to roost. The air is full of the bangs of stable doors being slammed, the indescribable sound of genies resisting being pushed back into the bottle and other political clichés falling like rain on the heads of the unsuspecting populace. Nowhere is this more evident than in the products of educational policy. The government and its acolytes have systematically removed the few pathetic remnants of all forms of school discipline. They have now produced a generation of young people who have never experienced it. From the age of four, children learn that their teachers are terrified of them and powerless to oppose their will. Even parents will now go to gaol if they smack their children. Such behaviour is in the genes: just watch a cat rearing a litter of kittens; the gentle loving cuff is instinctively understood as a symbol by both parties.

Every silly season the media latch on to a catch phrase that is endlessly repeated in front page headlines, until you feel like screaming each time it reappears. This year the in-phrase was “binge drinking” (just try a search on any of the UK media web sites, such as the BBC). The reason was that a modest bill to liberalise the regulation of alcohol sales was on the stocks, which set the anti-alcohol SIFs ablaze with the fury of the oppressor scorned. The random oscillations of Government policy between liberalisation and repression are quite arbitrary and conditioned by current politically correct thought (cannabis good, nicotiana bad etc.). Like much of oppressive legislation (e.g. income tax), the licensing acts started with war-time as an excuse (in 1916) and were then extended (most recently in 2003), under the urging of zealots, puritans and other bullies, to proscribe behaviour of which they do not approve. As we observed earlier this year, drunkenness is not a new phenomenon among the Anglo-Saxon races, nor is the exploitation of it to deprive people like Old Tom of their few remaining pleasures in life.

The reaction of socialists to any situation is to cry “Let’s ban something!” The latest move by the zealots in Government to exploit a new “crisis” is to propose banning the consumption of alcoholic drinks on public transport. Millions of people, many of them daily, find that they can mitigate the misery of a tedious railway journey by enjoying a quiet gin and tonic or other harmless tipple. Now, because of  the behaviour of a few louts, spawned by the hopeless state education system, that small comfort is to be taken from them. So the Nanny State gradually extracts every small patch of colour from their bleak lives and consigns them to a bleak grey Orwellian future.

It is the cutler fallacy. A witness to a public knifing testifies that the cutler did it. Alcohol is not the cause, it is a tool. Tools can be used for good or ill. Knives can be used to carve the Sunday joint or to kill someone. Drunkenness is used by the yobs as a symbol of defiance. We are the untouchables. We have been since childhood. Go on copper, arrest us and see how you like filling out over seventy boxes in pages of forms, only to see us let off with a reprimand.

Naturally, The Great Leader has an instant solution to this (just add water). It is his “Respect unit”. Oddly enough, the other ministers seem reluctant to give up some of their funding to contribute to it. The idea is that, having created an education, education, education system that produces uncontrollable thugs, he is going to put it all right by a series of measures that will add just a little more misery to the lives of the remaining law-abiding citizens

Your bending author has missed celebrating a significant anniversary this year, as did many of his contemporaries. Now that the new definition of binge drinking has been published (numbers again!), we find that we have been doing it daily for fifty years. This was achieved by typically having a couple of pints of IPA between noon and one pm and a couple more between six and seven. They did not explain that this required spilling out of a pub at eleven, having a punch-up and spewing all over the street. At that time most of us are tucked up in bed (or sitting writing web pages). The licensing laws are not a cure for this phenomenon, they are a cause. When all the drunkards spill out of the bars at exactly the same time, the police are bound to have an insoluble problem. In more civilised countries all over the world (even our notoriously violent governing country of Scotland) bars close at various times during the night and there are relatively few problems, but the campaigners do not wish to know about this.  Any train of non sequiturs will do as long as it can be used to suppress the hated object (be it alcohol, tobacco, salt etc. etc.).

It’s a grey, grey, grey, grey world.

30/10/05 (11 pm)

Number of the month – 62

The art of practical politics is to keep the public in a state of constant alarm by menacing it with hobgoblins, both real and imagined, – so making people clamorous to be led to safety.
H L Mencken

We can’t get away from bird flu. It has swamped the media. People have actually stopped eating chicken for fear of it. Yet the total number of human deaths so far is 62. That is half an hour’s worth of malaria deaths. One of these days, of course, the scaremongers are going to get it right and flu is a pretty good bet for them, with its remarkable mutability. Then they will be able to say “Told you so!” quietly forgetting the many times that they cried wolf. Two years ago our number for the year was 137, the total number of deaths ever from vCJD. It was bracketed with the number 774, the total number of deaths ever from SARS. What good does it do to stir up the population with these scares, apart from giving the gurus their fifteen minutes of fame? In a sane world, the professionals would get on with taking the appropriate actions to prepare for a possible pandemic without spreading worldwide panic. To give them their due, they do have the problem of getting inertial governments to move. In Indonesia, for example, an official response only started after a scientist had leaked to the press. The average government’s reaction to almost any crisis is the classic “too little, too late”. The priority is covering their backs (or, in the case of America, their donkeys).

Can anyone remember a time in recent years when there was not a major health scare running? Can anyone remember when it actually came to anything? Yet a death from malaria occurs every thirty seconds.

It’s a sad, sad, sad, sad world.

31/10/05

Index

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